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UK pupils call for an end to strife in Burma

THE BURMESE military has been accused of crushing peaceful human rights demonstrations in schools, prompting protests from teachers and pupils in England.

Amnesty International members in more than 500 schools in England have written to the Burmese government this week and made their own shows of resistance.

Sue Bingham, a teacher at Henley College in the Thames Valley, led her students on a protest this week in acknowledgement of the struggles faced by Burmese schools.

In Rangoon, Burma's biggest city, soldiers reportedly surrounded a technology school where about 2,000 students, nuns and monks were on hunger strike.

In the north-east of the city, the centre for demonstrations, pupils and parents were caught up in violence at the end of the school day.

One democracy group, the US Campaign for Burma, reported that 100 pupils and parents were killed outside High School No.3 in Tamwe, in the southern district of Rangoon. Other estimates of casualties were more conservative.

An Amnesty spokesman said students were actively involved in the protests. "During the peak of the protests a number of schools were closed. But with the curfews and the large military presence on the streets, public buildings are open and that includes schools," he said.

Zayyar Aung, a 32-year-old Burmese teacher, fled to England in 2004 after the last military crackdown. He first came up against the army when, aged 13, he draped a longyi (scarf) over his school uniform and joined the 1988 protests. Some of his friends were killed, some arrested. Many fled.

As an engineering student in 1996 he again joined demonstrations, but managed to escape injury when the soldiers opened fire.

Mr Aung taught at the Government Technical College for five years but, as a known member of the student democracy movement, he was eventually forced to flee.

A people trafficker smuggled him in a small boat to Thailand. From there he flew to London on a fake passport. Britain has now granted him refugee status as someone who would face grave danger if he returned home.

But, eventually, he would like to do so. "One day, when it is safe, I will go back because education standards in my country are very low," he told The TES. "My country needs democracy and education."

He hopes to share his experiences with English schoolchildren.

Next week, Amnesty International launches Human Rights Focus, a free DVD for schools.


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